Helen Tau

Being a walk-on wasn't easy for senior guard Helen Tau. She tied for manager twice, but didn't get it. Then when she did in her junior year, she did the grunt work. Now she's all smiles. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

When senior guard Helen Tau suits up before each game, she doesn’t worry about playing time. Tau doesn’t think she deserves more than the 22 minutes she has stepped on the court all season. And she’s not concerned that all she has is one free throw on her career.

Because until recently, Tau never thought she’d have this chance.

“It’s just all unexpected and I still feel like I don’t deserve it so everything I get is bonus,” Tau said. “I’m just happy to be here, whether it’s sitting on the bench or getting my last two minutes in — which are so totally sweet.”

Starting and lettering all four years at Brazoswood High School, Tau wanted to pursue college athletics but couldn’t decide between basketball and tennis. She decided she wasn’t good enough for either and instead focused on studying as a business honors student.

She wanted to serve as basketball team manager but was rejected both years as an underclassman.

“The third year, I decided it was a new coaching staff, I’d put myself out there one more time,” Tau said. “If I got rejected, it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Apparently it was. 

As a manager for the entire season last year, Tau didn’t interact with the players much. She described her job as “grunt work behind the scenes” with high expectations but little credit.

“Sometimes we’d get treated kind of badly,” Tau said.

And she certainly didn’t get close to the players.

“They wanted to keep it pretty distant to begin with, and I’m pretty shy whenever I start in new places,” Tau said.

But on Oct. 30, injuries left the roster thin and head coach Karen Aston added Tau to the roster as a walk-on.

“The most noticeable thing about Helen is her approach and attention to detail,” Aston said. “When you tell her to do something, she does it to the best of her abilities. You don’t have to tell her twice.”

When Aston asked Tau to join the team one day during scrimmages, Tau didn’t believe her. She said Aston was “really nonchalant and chill,” but Tau was freaking out.

“Maybe she didn’t think it was a big deal, but in my head I was like, ‘Holy crap, what’s going on?’” Tau said.

The transition wasn’t easy — she sleeps less, is “a little behind on her work” and said she doubts every day that she deserves her position, especially after a bad practice. Her teammates cheer her up.

Tau’s first practice, the team needed to run four suicides in under 32 seconds, repeating each one that didn’t make the cut.

Tau ran seven — but she didn’t run them alone.

“After the sixth, I couldn’t really do it,” Tau said. “I had Nneka [Enemkpali] pulling me from the front and Empress [Davenport] pushing me from the back to make sure I made the times. From then, I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’” 

As Texas (20-10, 11-7 Big 12) enters the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship this weekend with its first No. 3 seed since the 2004-2005 season, Tau’s DI time nears its end.

“Instead of finding a job, which I still need to do, I’m just playing basketball, which I’m totally OK with,” Tau said. “Instead of looking forward like my classmates are doing, I’m all up in the moment.”

Senior guard Chassidy Fussell drives to the basket during Texas' contest Monday night. Fussell was one of four seniors honored during Monday night's senior night. 

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Tears filled the eyes of senior GiGi Mazionyte as she stepped onto the court squeezing tightly onto her family’s hands. The crowd cheered as the announcer announced that Mazionyte — along with seniors Chassidy Fussell, Helen Tau and Ashley Roberts — was playing in her final regular season game. 

It seemed fitting that No. 18 Oklahoma State was the regular season finale. The Longhorns opened conference play with a close 61-67 loss to the Cowgirls and closed it Monday night with a 65-58 win.

The win gives Texas the third spot in the Big 12 ranking going into postseason play but, more impressively, gives the Longhorns their 21st win of the season.

“I’m really proud of our basketball team tonight,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I have always thought, as a coach, that [20 wins] is the symbol of a good basketball team.”

Although it was a big game against a ranked opponent, it was important to Aston to honor her seniors. Tau and Roberts, who usually sit firmly on the bench for the majority of games, found their names on the starting roster Monday night. 

“I think that is something that those players always remember,” Aston said. “Some of them have not had the opportunity to run through that tunnel this year, so it was important to me, and I’m sure it was to them.”

Tau returned to the bench at the 17:40 minute mark with a smile stretched across her face and a cheer from the stands while Roberts trotted back with 16:29 to go in the first. Both eventually jogged back to the court with Texas in the lead with about 50 seconds left. 

“Just to see them smile — [especially Tau],” Fussell said. “She has the biggest smile on the team. We told her to shoot the ball. We didn’t care if she made it or missed. It’s just great to see my teammates out there.”

Texas started off the game quick and aggressive. Freshman forward Nekia Jones set the tone and brought up the energy within seconds of checking into the game with a 3-pointer immediately followed by an acrobatic layup. 

The second half got off to a slow start. The Longhorns were initially sloppy, misdirecting passes straight into the hands of Cowgirls. Oklahoma State fought hard to cut the Longhorns’ lead, but Texas pushed back just as hard to maintain the lead for its seniors.

“All we talked about before the game was just playing for the seniors, no matter what,” Fussell said.

***NO PHOTO***

A recent drug bust on the TCU campus, as well as a study released by representatives of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, could indicate that marijuana use among college student-athletes is increasing.

A total of 20,474 student athletes participated in an anonymous survey released by the NCAA in January. The report indicated that 22.6 percent of collegiate student-athletes admitted in 2009 to having used marijuana over the past year. This indicates that marijuana use among NCAA collegiate athletes has increased 1.4 percent since 2005.

After a six month police sting, four members of the TCU football team were arrested Feb. 15 on suspicion of possessing and dealing marijuana and other drugs.

Helen Tau, president of the Texas Athletics Council, said she is concerned UT athletes could potentially be caught using drugs in a situation similar to the Feb. 15 drug busts that occurred on the TCU campus, but is not surprised to find out that more athletes have begun smoking marijuana.

“In my opinion, the overall trend of marijuana use in the entire population is increasing, therefore, I don’t believe it would be any different in collegiate athletes,” said Tau, a physical culture and sports junior. “I think it has the potential to be a big problem.”

Nick Voinis, spokesman for Longhorn athletics, said he believes the UT drug testing policy is an effective way of preventing drug use amongst UT athletes. According to the Intercollegiate Athletics Policy Manual, student-athletes must undergo mandatory drug screenings through urine analyses and are tested for all of the substances listed as “banned drug classes.”

“We continually educate our student-athletes on the physical, psychological, social and legal consequences of substance abuse,” Voinis said. “Our student-athletes must abide by all University, Big 12 Conference and NCAA policies and procedures relative to drug testing.”

Tau said she is skeptical of the effectiveness of drug testing policies at UT and other institutions. She said she thinks there are always ways to improve upon a drug testing system.

“[Solving this problem will take] the coaches and players all coming together to solve this situation,” Tau said. “I feel like they have the knowledge of what is going on. Since they are close with each other, they would have the most influence.”

However, Tau said marijuana use by athletes will not affect her love for UT athletics.

“This wouldn’t change the way I think of UT sports,” Tau said. “It would be disappointing if the same thing that happened at TCU happened here. But UT has such a strong tradition that it won’t affect me.”